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May 1 2002 : One-Tool Player? (Player Diary)

April 19, 2002

Outdoor tryouts were last night and I am happy to report that I arrived home without a black eye. (See previous entry for how I got quite a shiner.) I caught exactly one ball in the outfield and fielded two at shortstop, two at second base, and made one good throw from second. In other words, I did okay about 20% of the time, and was a complete defensive liability the rest of the time.

That was true of a lot of the women trying out, but some of them I know, from having seen them play in the league last year, will get back in the groove and be slick fielders again by next month. I, on the other hand, don’t yet have a groove to get into. It’s all still so new, just trying to internalize everything is going to be a challenge.

Cheryl worked with me more on my throw. I need to come over the top more and extend my arm more. I think I am getting a better sense of how to visualize where my hand/arm is behind me. I keep thinking it’s high enough, but it isn’t, so my sense of where it is needs to be adjusted. I’m now picturing this zone that my hand and the ball have to go through as I make the throw, and it’s higher and further away than I first thought. We’ll see if I can get another 20 feet on the throw yet.

Speaking of throwing, for once, playing catch wasn’t a complete adventure. I threw with a newcomer named Susan (I think) and had only ONE ball not got nicely into my glove, only one just ticked off the end. Unlike last week when ten in a row or so were near misses. Throwing back to my partner I only dropped it at her feet maybe two or three times once we backed up and were trying to get more distance.

The new glove may have helped. It’s a half inch bigger than my old one, and the leather is thicker, and it’s overall just a much nicer glove. It’s a Rawlings. The old one was a Spalding, but it was a Wal-Mart sale glove.

I can’t recall now if I have mentioned why I had to get a new glove. First, the story of the old glove. That was the one my Dad bought me at spring training at a Wal-mart in Florida a few years ago, and which Clay Bellinger, my favorite utility player of all time, tugged on “for luck” when I told him I was going to try to play baseball last year. I think the luck ran out when Bellinger was let go by the Yankees (he’s on the Anaheim Angels now)–as evidenced by the black eye I got last week. A few days later I brought the glove with me to Fenway Park, a place that’s cursed for sure, and lost it in a thick crowd on the subway when it fell out of my hands and disappeared in the people. Blame Osama Bin Laden–if they would allow backpacks or bags into stadiums it would have been packed safely away. But as I said, maybe its time was up.

The drawback right now to the new glove is it is hard to get it to open all the way, because it is still stiff and not broken in. Just got to play a lot of catch.

I am still mediocre to bad at reading balls in the outfield. It’s just not that easy to tell for me whether to run in, out, or how far. By and large it seems the ball always travels farther than I think it is going to, so I should almost always run out. I get very close to balls, but not close enough to catch them. There were a few I think i could have had if I could judge the depth better — it’s like my depth perception isn’t quite sure how far out to reach my arm. Will that get better with practice? I hope so, since I am unlikely to see playing time at any other position. But some guys in the major leagues–Randy Velarde for one, Nick Johnson for another–can’t track balls in the outfield, and I’m sure they’ve got the best coaches in the world. So we will see if this is a skill I can acquire, or not.

Last night’s balls were a special adventure. The lights at Trum Field are pretty bright, which is fine for things that are happening on the field itself. But a fly ball flies up out of the beams of the light, into the dark, and then drops back into the light, oh, about twenty feet from your head, if you ran to the right spot. Thank goodness our games are in the daytime.

We did some pitching drills, which were fascinating. I doubt I’ll ever pitch, but some of the drills are useful for improving my throwing mechanics.

There is a scrimmage next Thursday I hope to make. I am supposed to be at a meeting that night, but…

April 20

Worked like crazy last night (Friday night) so I could justify taking the time today to watch the Yankees on tv at KJT’s (three friends who have broadband cable and the Extra Innings package). Got up early today and worked some more, then went to their house to find the game in rain delay. The Yankees did not play well and their inconsistency woes continue and the game went in to extra innings …. I don’t want to talk about it. (They lost. See http://www.ceciliatan.com/Entry113.html if you want the gory details.) Anyway, the game wasn’t over until after 6pm, but it was still light out and not too terribly cold, so I went to the school to throw.

The ground was wet and it was drizzling a little, in the mid-fifties. Gee, wasn’t it 85 degrees just a few days ago? It was almost 90 on Wednesday, but was cold again by tryouts. Today the ball never warmed up, and was soggy and wet and cold to the touch. My fingers were cold, too, and I started to get a blister on my middle finger from the wet seams after about forty throws.

I was working on the steps Cheryl taught me, cradle, get the arm up in the back, snap the wrist. Mechanics. Trying to get my arm up higher I was often throwing the ball into the base of the wall instead of shoulder high. Until I get these mechanics down, my accuracy is going to suffer. Release point. Arm up.

My legs hurt today. I jogged around the mini-soccer field a few times and my quads and my hamstring muscles at mid-thigh are sore. From running down balls in the outfield, I am sure. It is the sprinter’s burn. That was two days ago and yesterday I didn’t feel it, but today I am. Just another thing we have to build up…

I thought about going to the cage, but my nose is completely stuffy and I didn’t want to brave the cigarette smoke in there. Instead I did some errands and then came home and worked until about 3 in the morning.

April 21

A cold, gray Sunday. Is spring really here? 51 degrees when I got out of bed and they are saying that tomorrow we can expect sleet and snow. I worked late last night, then did some more this morning and then went to KJT’s to watch the game. What a glutton I am–two games in a row. It’s such a treat to watch games on tv for me. I love to watch all the stuff going on both on and off the field that they don’t tell you about on the radio.

Today they won, and pretty much everything went right, and Jason Giambi hit a home run late in the game after the score was already heavily in the Yankees favor.

Walking home I passed by the school and threw against the wall again. Legs feel a bit better today — the stretching I did during the game yesterday, and the light jogging, must have helped. Worked the mechanics drill more. Thnplayed some light catch with a Dad and his 4-year-old son Calvin. Calvin will be five in several days and his favorite Boston Red Sock is Manny Ramirez. Although he was pretending to be Johnny Damon. His Dad was tossing a tennis ball to him. Very cute. I told them the Red Sox won their first game today. (Doubleheader because yesterday’s game was rained out.)

Want to go to the cage but same problem as yesterday–congestion. Best to stay out of the smoke.

April 25

Well, there was supposed to be a scrimmage tonight, but the weather is not on our side. It’s pouring rain and cold out there so it has been cancelled.

For me, it is just as well. Since the weekend I have been knocked down with a cold, and yesterday although all the cold-like symptoms cleared up (sniffling, sneezing, stuffy head, etc…) for the past two days I have been so weak I can barely stand up in the shower. I get to the top of a flight of stairs and I hve to sit down and rest. Jeez. I’m starting to wonder what the symptoms of mono are.

April 27

Well, it was nice and sunny this morning, and for once I felt like I could get up and down the stairs without collapsing, so I went to practice/tryouts — the last outing before the draft. There were not very many people there, about seven returning players and three of us trying out. After stretching, I found that when I got up to jog a bit, that now it’s my stomach that is not feeling well. Oy. Every time I bounced my stomach, a feeling of naseau and discomfort came up. Ugh. I sat on the bench instead, during infield/outfield drills, feeling somewhat sorry for myself.

I kept wondering to myself if maybe, deep down, it was psychosomatic. Could my fear of failure be sabotaging my attempts to try?

Maybe I think too much. About an hour into our practice, some guys from a Yawkey League team showed up, and we ended up taking batting practice with them. Megan didn’t think I should hit if I wasn’t feeling well, but I told her I’d just take five swings. I made solid contact on every one but one that I popped straight up. I felt like I wasn’t swinging my full speed–the ball was coming in too slow for that, if that makes sense. The guy pitching was being quite nice, just BP lobs, not really trying to pitch live to us (though he did try to strike Ann Margaret out, but she was loving it). I feel like the slower the ball comes in, the slower I have to swing to meet it.

I borrowed someone’s 26 ounce, 31 inch bat. I was also swinging slower because it’s just a heavier bat than what I’ve been practicing with. And I was nauseous. Actually I felt fine while standing there and swinging, but then when picking up the balls I jogged them back to the pitcher and … oog. Bad idea. I sat down again after that. Sterling said “nice job.” I did not throw up, though I contemplated it.

I didn’t eat anything the rest of the day until around 8pm I had a bowl of macaroni and cheese. If it was psychosomatic it sure lasted a heck of a long time. I’m actually typing this on Sunday, the next day, and I still don’t feel right. So I am going to put any doubts about sabotaging myself to rest. I think back to when I used to run cross country track when I was a teenager. There were days when I just didn’t want to force myself to do it. And it was always forcing myself to do it, I never liked running and am still not sure, to this day, why I stuck with it for four years… On days like that sometimes I would play sick or beg off because of this or that malady. Our coach was never fooled–he knew I just didn’t want to do it, and sometimes he’d cajole me into doing it anyway, and other times he’d let me beg off. I was not a contender–we didn’t even have enough women to have a women’s team–so I was very low on his list of priorities, and if I wanted to be a lazy ass he wasn’t going to bother to get on me for it.

It took me until my senior year to learn that shying away from the pain and suffering of running didn’t actually lessen it. That by not giving 100% and running all out, all I was doing was making things worse. The slower you run, the longer you are on the course. It took me a long time to realize that the only thing that could keep me from finishing a race was not my legs or my physical condition, but my mental condition. Five kilometers is not that far. When I first started in distance running, it was. It seemed like forever and I really did not have confidence that I could finish the race. Then once I began to have the strength and endurance physically, mentally I had not caught up. I still thought of myself as a slow, back of the pack runner, who could drop out at any time.

In my last race as a senior I thought I was doing terribly. My legs ached and my lungs ached and I thought, man, here it is, my last race, and I’m going to have one of my worst times ever. But I was determined that I was going to finish. We were running on an unfamiliar course and there was no one else near my pace, so I was alone almost the entire time. Then I saw my coach at the finish line looking at the watch. Then he looked at me, than he looked back at the watch. As I crossed the finish line he called out my time and now I was the one who did a double take. I had not run my worst race ever–I had run my best race ever. I had taken something like four minutes off my personal best. He was a little bit mad at me. “Why weren’t you running like that for four years?” he asked. I was asking myself the same thing. I guess I just had not realized that I could. What I had needed was the mental edge to be able to push myself harder.

The next physically challenging thing I did in my life was tae kwon do. Well, there was also skiing, which I was just naturally good at. I became a professional ski instructor while still in high school after I took a clinic and was told that I was a technically perfect skier. Being almost completely self-taught that was a big confidence booster. I just had a knack for skiing and learning new things was easy. It all came very easily.

Tae kwon do was similar. I just took to it right away. It helped, I suppose, that I was in great shape physically back then, had never had an injury. I picked it up very quickly and seemed “naturally” good at it. After college I quit doing it for a few years, then started again for a month or so before I had a ski injury to my knee that kept me in physical therapy for a year. When I went back to tae kwon do I was no longer quite as spry, but mentally I was quite determined. Once I got going again, I moved up the ranks quickly, and got my black belt in 1996.

Then came the back injury, and I feel like I have been in slow motion ever since. (That was six years ago! Dammit all!) Even with TKD, I am not quite the same kick-ass fighter I once was. But the confidence is still there. I know what I can do. I know I’ve reached a very high level of physical challenge in the martial arts and that I can do it again. What I may lack in physical ease I can make up in mental determination.

Which brings me to baseball. I am not a natural at it, I don’t think. Maybe it would be different if I had learned to throw and catch at a young age, like so many of the other players. But I think I can make up for that with hard work, practice, and determination–if I am given a chance. I need practice and I need coaching, to develop the skills I need. I can’t do it just by guesswork and reading books and hoping it will all work when the ball comes near me. I want to learn to field and throw, but I feel like I am so far behind the women in the league that it’s hard to pick it up on the fly from them. Taking three grounders and going to the back of the line is fun, but am I actually improving? I feel like I need to do it fifty times, not five, and I want to do it every day, not once a week. But I don’t know if that opportunity will be there.

It certainly won’t be if I’m sitting on the sidelines sick to my stomach. Maybe I need to be more forward about it. I don’t want to make a pest of myself, but at the same time, how else am I going to learn what I need? Hey, throw me some grounders, tell me what I’m doing wrong, help me with footwork, hit me some fungoes.

April 30, 2002

Well, the news came today in the form of an email form letter sent to me and a few others:

hi,

we want to thank you for coming to tryout for our league this spring. unfortunately we were unable to place you on a team for this upcoming season. this decision is based in part on roster-size but also on skill level. we invite you to come tryout again next year.

thanks for your interest

-NEWBL

Well, I knew I wasn’t at the skill level of the regular players in that league, but there is no lower tier for me to go to to learn the skills I want to. There’s no feeder system, no coaching or mentoring system. There is park league softball, but I’m not interested in softball–I’ll play wiffle ball before softball, honestly, if I’m going to play a diamond-game that’s not baseball.

Rich, who had a falling out with his Men’s Senior League team, has this idea to start a remedial league, just for us and our friends. There would be no teams, just fourteen or more players. When you bat, you either hit or make out. If you make out, you rotate into the field. If you get a hit, you run the bases until you make out. Everybody plays every position that way. You just keep personal stats and each game lasts until every person has had four at bats. I think it would be fun but I don’t know if we’ll interest enough of our friends to be able to do it regularly.

What are my other options? I suppose I could nag the women’s league folks and ask if I could still come to practices like I did last year, but the email notification feels like a brush off to me. I don’t think they want me around. I could nag a men’s senior league or Yawkey League team the same way. I suppose I’ll have to look around. Sigh.

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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